A Tale of Two Cities is a novel written by Charles Dickens first published in 1859, dealing with the events of The French Revolution and their impact on the lives of a number of fictional characters living at the time. The two cities of the title are London and Paris: London is seen in the book as a bastion of order, and Paris as a symbol of lawlessness.Lucie Manette, a young Frenchwoman living in England, receives news that her father, who has been lost for sixteen years and was presumed dead, is actually alive, albeit insane, and would she please come see him to see if her presence can help restore his sanity. She later marries Charles Darnay, who, unknown to her family, is the son of a deceased Marquis in France. When he receives a letter from France calling him to go save one of his former servants, France draws him in, and attempts to execute him. At the same time, Sydney Carton, a man who looks as if he were Darnay's twin separated at birth, tries to redeem his wasted life.The novel has one of the most famous opening lines in literature:It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.The final scene includes a line that is almost as famous, (although context would be a spoiler):It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.Dickens' novel was largely inspired by his reading of Thomas Carlyle's The French Revolution: A History, and took from it the sense of the Revolution as an elemental eruption of the human spirit when pushed too far. Dickens, however, unlike Carlyle, sympathized with the ends, though not the conduct, of the Revolution, and offers a glimpse of hope that after the Robespierres and Defarges have died off, France itself would rise a free and happy Republic. (Yeah, that didn't work out too well.)If you're looking for the story of Bob Trimbolie and Terry Clark, it's right over here.
This book provides examples of:
Acting for Two: In movie versions, Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton are often, but not always, played by the same actor.
Anti-Hero: Syndey can't be bothered to care about anything, but he finds a cause by the end.
Asshole Victim: Darnay's uncle. Unsurprisingly, no one's upset when the pissed off father murders him.
Madame Defarge who is utterly without pity and mercy and would gladly send a child to the Guillotine simply for being the granddaughter of her sister's rapist, and would send an elderly doctor there too simply to round out the numbers is shot dead by Miss Pross when she threatens the Manettes
Ax-Crazy: At the beginning of the Revolution, the lower classes are described as going kill-crazy on the upper classes, massacring even those they'd already taken prisoner. This is most vividly depicted by a group who gather around a blade sharpener in preparation for another round of slaughter, all the while wearing women's clothing and having glued pubic hair beards to their faces.
Bang Bang BANG: Miss Pross gets permanently deafened when Madame Defarge's gun goes off during the struggle with her.
Beauty Equals Goodness: The Manettes and Darnays are all beautiful people of impeccable morals. However, the trope is inverted just before the final confrontation. Madame Defarge is said to be quite a handsome woman, while Miss Pross is wiry, unattractive and so peculiar-looking that it's hard to notice when she's been beaten up.
Played with in the case of John Barsad, who is described as looking quite handsome but a bit shifty due to an aqualine nose. Turns out that he's really Miss Pross' long lost brother Solomon, who is a scoundrel of the highest order
Big Fancy House: The Marquis owns a dazzling chateau, which turns out to make great firewood...
Bilingual Dialogue: Happens In-Universe when Madame Defarge barges into Lucie's house, intending to have her Revenge by Proxy, but is stopped by Miss Pross. The narrator tells us that both women spoke in their native language, but their facial expressions and body language makes their intentions perfectly clear to each other.
Brilliant but Lazy: Subverted with Sydney Carton. He is quite skilled at his job and does it very diligently, but he allows Stryver to take all the credit for the cases they win. Not to mention, of course, that he is the only one able to save Charles Darnay and get the rest of the family out of France at the end of the book. He only pretends to be lazy, as in this exchange:
Sydney: Business! Bless you, I have no business.
Mr. Lorry: If you had, perhaps you would attend to it.
Sydney: Lord love you, no! - I shouldn't.
Bullet Holes and Revelations: During the struggle between Miss Pross and Madame Defarge over a gun, it goes off. It takes a few lines to find out where the shot went.
Butt Monkey: Sydney Carton, although he admittedly does this to himself.
The Carton/Darnay resemblance, which Sydney uses to take the latter's place on the Guillotine.
Also, Cruncher's graverobbing. It gets mentioned in one chapter, but doesn't become relevant until it turns out that Cruncher had tried to rob Cly's grave and found no corpse.
Companion Cube: A somber example Played for Drama: The shoemaker's bench and tools are this for Doctor Manette. Manette refers to him as a friend and deplores its destruction. When Lorry and Miss Prost destroy the shoemakers’s bench, they also treat him like something alive:
On the night of the day on which he left the house, Mr. Lorry went into his room with a chopper, saw, chisel, and hammer, attended by Miss Pross carrying a light. There, with closed doors, and in a mysterious and guilty manner, Mr. Lorry hacked the shoemaker's bench to pieces, while Miss Pross held the candle as if she were assisting at a murder — for which, indeed, in her grimness, she was no unsuitable figure. The burning of the body (previously reduced to pieces convenient for the purpose) was commenced without delay in the kitchen fire; and the tools, shoes, and leather, were buried in the garden. So wicked do destruction and secrecy appear to honest minds, that Mr. Lorry and Miss Pross, while engaged in the commission of their deed and in the removal of its traces, almost felt, and almost looked, like accomplices in a horrible crime.
Contrived Coincidence: Dickensian destiny at work: Dr. Manette's daughter marries the last heir of the Evremondes, who imprisoned him. His former serving boy Defarge marries the sister of the woman that the Evremondes raped and Manette treated.
Charles Darnay: is actually a French aristocrat, Charles St. Evrémonde, whose family is infamous for its mistreatment of the poor. He renounces his title and wealth, moves to England and attempts to live a new life.
Sydney Carton: His mother died when he was young. He "followed his father to the grave," and otherwise never felt at home anywhere. He always did other people's work at university, and never took credit when it was due to him. The result is his alcoholism and self-deprecatory attitude.
Dr. Manette: is wrongly imprisoned in the Bastille for 18 years by Darnay's father and uncle, causing him to write a manifesto that would later sentence his son-in-law to the Guillotine.
Madame Defarge: It was her older sister who was raped and ultimately killed by Darnay's uncle. Her brother died defending her honor, and her father died of grief. Thus Defarge swore vengeance against all of the Evrémondes.
Madame Defarge will stop at nothing to have her vengeance, saying, "Ask the wind and the fire to stop, not me."
The Mender of Roads meets an agent of the Revolution who is set to burn down the Evremondes' chateau and notes how implacable his expression is, even in sleep. He imagines he sees more of these types of men at work for the Republic.
Disproportionate Retribution: The Revolution quickly gives way to the Reign of Terror, where the most tenuous links to the aristocracy, the most minor of infractions or the slightest hint of disloyalty will earn you an appointment with the National Razor. Madame Defarge is the living embodiment of this trope and would gladly murder the entire family of Charles Darnay for what his uncle did to her family. Even the child. The innocent seamstress girl who dies just before Sydney Carton on the Guillotine is the living embodiment of the victims of such rage and hatred
Domestic Abuser: Cruncher's introduction reveals that he gets into violent rows with his wife, which is more or less played for comedy. It helps establish him as a dumb, working-class cockney.
Drinking Game: Take a sip whenever someone mentions how pretty, nice and/or sweet Lucie is. Two shots if they mention her golden hair in the process of doing so.
Dying Alone: Averted when Sydney Carton talks with a seamstress on the tumbrel, confides the truth, and encourages her in facing death. He succeeds. Similarly, see Stay with Me Until I Die.
"I mind nothing while I hold your hand. I shall mind nothing when I let it go, if they are rapid." "They will be rapid. Fear not!"
Entitled to Have You: Stryver first tries to offer himself to Lucie, believing that his position is more than enough for her; he is aghast when Mr. Lorry tries to talk him out of it.
Everyone Calls Him Barkeep: The Mender of Roads is always referred to as such, until he takes a new job and is called the Wood Sawyer. It's not even clear that the two names refer to the same person until the narration mentions that the Wood Sawyer recently mended roads.
Darnay rushes back to France to aid a former servant in need. Without telling anyone. During the French Revolution. Silly Charles.
Both Madame Defarge's older brother and sister refuse to reveal their family name to Dr. Manette so that they can retain some honor, despite the possibility that he could have alert authorities about the crimes committed against them.
I Have This Friend: Played with when Mr. Lorry consults Dr. Manette about the case of a friend’s mental shock. The case is not about Mr. Lorry, is about Dr. Manette himself, who has experienced a Heroic BSOD and in the verge of a Sanity Slippage that only has been avoided by the use of his Companion Cube.
"Doctor Manette," said Mr. Lorry, touching him affectionately on the arm, "the case is the case of a particularly dear friend of mine. Pray give your mind to it, and advise me well for his sake — and above all, for his daughter's — his daughter's, my dear Manette."
"If I understand," said the Doctor, in a subdued tone, "some mental shock — ?"
"Be explicit," said the Doctor. "Spare no detail."
Improbable Hairstyle: Dickens remarks that the world champion at leap-frog would refuse to jump over Cruncher. Hair that spiky would present too much of a risk.
Off with His Head!: The guillotine is a central part of the story, due to taking place during the French Revolution.
Orphan's Ordeal: This is largely the plot of Book I: Recalled to Life, in which Lucie is reunited with her thought-to-be-dead father. Other orphans include Madame Defarge and Sydney Carton, to name just a few.
The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: France is (in the typical British style) portrayed as being absolutely insane at the time period. Dickens actually takes a third option—neither side is justified, and there are good and bad people among the rich and the poor. However, he declares that the actions of the nobles led directly to the atrocities committed against them. (Postscripts by modern editors often compare his description of the process to the later rise of a certain Austrian "reformer.")
Stay with Me Until I Die: Sydney Carton promises to hold the hand of the innocent Seamstress until the end. He even talks with her during the entire ride to the guillotine, taking special care to distract her from it.
"O you will let me hold your brave hand, stranger?" "Hush! Yes, my poor sister; to the last."
Suspiciously Specific Denial: Lorry remarks that a thunderstorm is one to raise the dead. Graverobber Cruncher hastily says that he's never seen such a thing.
Tender Tears: Lucie Manette, meant to showcase her sensitivity and compassion. In her favor, she very rarely cries for herself.
Textile Work Is Feminine: Madame Defarge knits revolutionary code into her work. She and her fellow female revolutionaries knit at the base of the guillotine and count the heads.
Token Evil Teammate: Cruncher is the only sympathetic character who is in any way immoral, being a wife-beater and a moonlighting graverobber. He is always helpful to the heroes of the story, however, and vows to improve himself after a stern tongue-lashing from Mr. Lorry.
Your Princess Is in Another Castle: Dr. Manette is able to get Charles off the hook at his trial in France, despite the latter being an aristocrat. Now everyone can live happily ever after, right? Wrong. Madam Defarge uncovers some papers Manette wrote over 18 years prior denouncing Charles's family, thereby sentencing him to death.